Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 21, 2007 – Blessed Sacrament
You may have noticed that the reading from St. Luke’s Gospel that we have just heard combines verses from different chapters. The first was the very elegant paragraph in which Luke addresses Theophilus, apparently a patron, and tells him what he is attempting with his book. Others had written narratives about Jesus before Luke, which presumably he consulted, but he has also drawn on the memories of eye-witnesses and ministers of the word in order to construct an orderly sequence of the events. The passage is written in excellent Greek and was obviously written for a Greek audience whose attention he was seeking by this brief introduction.
The story he has to tell, of course, is not Greek. It unfolds in an insignificant little land called Palestine, land of the Jews. After the chapters in which he had described the birth and childhood of Christ, his baptism in the Jordan, and his temptation in the Judean wilderness, Luke brings the reader to Galilee and to the town in which he had grown up, Nazareth, and to a sabbath synagogue meeting. Given the opportunity to choose a reading and to comment on it, Jesus opens the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah and reads the passage where Isaiah prophesies: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” By the time of Jesus this prophecy, which originally predicted Israel’s return from exile, had been given a messianic meaning. And Luke, very dramatically, has all eyes turn expectantly toward Jesus who sits down and begins to speak: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It is the announcement of the Messiah’s program. The messianic prophecy was being fulfilled: here he was bringing glad tidings to the poor, proclaiming the great Jubilee when God was about to free his people from all their oppressive debts, and to bring them out from their dark prison into the light and joy of his redemption. Do I need to say that it was an extraordinary claim? His fellow townsmen listened with interest at first, but as we will hear next week their attitude quickly changed at the thought that one of their own was in effect claiming to be the Messiah.
Luke’s skillful telling of this story was meant to draw the reader into the tale he was telling. He was himself, in his Gospel, making sure that the message and ministry of Christ would become known to new generations. This was so important that, alone among the Evangelists, he composed a second volume, the Acts of the Apostles to tell how the Gospel spread throughout the ancient world even to the capital of the empire, Rome.
In telling the story of Jesus’ words in the Nazareth synagogue, Luke is also inviting us to hear those words as addressed to us also: “Today this Scripture passage is being fulfilled in your hearing.” In fact, that is the claim upon our attention made by every Scripture passage we hear. They are not read out for the sake of historical interest, so that we can learn about events that happened from three and a half to two millennia ago. They are instead, as Vatican II put it, the means by which God continues to speak to his people, to us. They are addressed to us, for our comfort perhaps, for a judgment upon us, for a challenge, as a promise of forgiveness, as a ground of hope, as a motive for love, as guidance on our way. Samuel Coleridge put it well: in the Scriptures, he said, I find “words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterances for my hidden griefs, and pleadings for my shame and my feebleness.” It is not, he said, so much that I find them, but that they find me, that is, I think he meant, they show me to myself, reveal who I am, what I should be, what I may hope for, what road I should walk.
Perhaps it would help if as we collect ourselves before Mass, as the Scriptures begin to be read out, to say to ourselves: “It is Jesus himself who is speaking through these Scriptures. They are meant for me. There is something in them for my good, for my mind, for my heart.” And with that attitude then to listen to the Scriptures, and expect that each time he will say: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And what will be fulfilled every time will basically be the same thing now as on that day in Nazareth: he has come to bring glad tidings to our poor souls, sight to our blind minds, and freedom to our captive hearts.